★ ★ ★ ★ ★
A few months ago, my coworkers and I started a Shadowrun campaign. Shadowrun is a tabletop RPG (think Dungeons & Dragons), but in addition to elves and dragons and whatnot, this game also has hackers, cybernetic body parts, and drones. What’s not to love? Anyway, when we first started playing, I was inspired to re-read Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. One of the few books I’ve ever read more than once. While I was in the process of re-reading Snow Crash, I happened upon an interview with William Gibson. I greatly enjoyed the interview, and decided it was probably about time I read Neuromancer; having been aware of it at least since Snow Crash was originally recommended to me back in college.
The first thing that struck me about the book was just how much of Shadowrun was cribbed from Gibson. The Matrix, street samurai, The Sprawl, corporate arcologies, and much more is all in Shadowrun and pulled straight from Neuromancer. (Although I am quite disappointed that no one I know refers to computer enthusiasts as “console cowboys,” in Shadowrun or in real life, I do intend to start referring to myself in this way.) I shouldn’t have been too surprised, then, when the entire first 25% of the book plays out almost exactly like a Shadowrun mission. I read this portion of the book on a plane, and was completely enthralled throughout the entire thing. If the entire book had been more like the first quarter, this would be one of my favorite books of all time. Unfortunately, after Case (the main character) acquires the Dixie Flatline ROM, the book sort of fizzled for me.
In particular, I had a very hard time knowing where the hell I was. Between Riviera’s mass hallucinations, Case slipping not just in and out of The Matrix, but also in and out of Molly’s head, and the cyber-construct(s?), I didn’t know what was going on through more of this book than I’d like to admit. Oh, and I think Armitage had some flashbacks? I can’t remember. Which is a shame. In fact, before I started writing this, I had to read the Wikipedia plot synopsis. And I’m glad I did, because I missed quite a lot. Because of spoilers, I won’t get into it here, but I didn’t fully grasp some fairly significant plot points.
Ultimately, though, my problem with this book wasn’t really with the book itself, but the time in which I read it. Meaning both in my own history, but also in History itself. This is the same problem I had with Confederacy of Dunces. These books don’t really have anything to do with each other, but I’ve used Confederacy multiple times to explain this idea, so I’ll use it again now. Confederacy of Dunces is a funny book. I can see why, when it was first published, people thought it was a brilliant book. And it is. As far as I know, the style of slow-burn massively funny giant pay-off/punchline at the end of that book had never been done before. If that’s true, then it’s very easy for me to understand why it was such a hit; that style works. The problem is, while it (maybe?) hadn’t been done before, it has been done since. Not only that, but that idea or style has been improved upon. The TV show Frasier is a perfect example of the type of humor I’m talking about, and is my favorite use of that style. But I watched Frasier before I read Confederacy, and so when I read a less-polished version, I couldn’t help but be less impressed. I knew that in History, Confederacy of Dunces came first, but my emotional reaction was lessened, because it was not only not new to me, but its style didn’t live up to something that came later, but did it better.
All of that is to say, if I had read Neuromancer before I read Snow Crash, and before I saw The Matrix, and before I played Shadowrun, it probably would have blown my freaking mind. But I didn’t. So it didn’t.